Letter to the Congregation, 20 May 2020

Dear Members and Friends of First UMC,

Greetings! I hope this letter finds you well. To start this week’s update, I’ll share some good news (not that I have any bad news). A few weeks ago, I applied for a grant called “Connect through Tech” offered by the Center for Congregations. First UMC was awarded this grant for the purchase of new technology. This new tech will improve our ability to live stream worship services. It will also improve the audio quality of our services. (Hopefully, that ever-present white noise in the background will go away).

Secondly, it looks like we’re still on track to reopen the church building for in-person worship either June 28 or July 5. I will make announcements on the date we reopen via our church’s website, email, Facebook, WordPress, and in our worship service videos (found on Facebook & YouTube). We will still have our 8:15 and 10:30 a.m. services. We will likely close every other pew to seating in order to maintain social distancing until the CDC and the Posey County Health Department relax those guidelines.

As of Tuesday, May 19, the Posey County Health Department stated on their Facebook page that we should all wear masks when we go to public places. PLEASE wear a mask in public and wash your hands often, for your own well-being and for the well-being of others.

Lastly, I want to let you know about worship this Sunday, May 24. Bishop Julius Trimble and the Extended Cabinet of the Indiana Conference have prepared a worship service for the Indiana Conference churches in celebration of Aldersgate Day. The worship service will include two former pastors of First UMC, Rev. Russ Abel and Rev. Mitch Gieselman, who both currently serve the Indiana Conference as District Superintendents.

The worship service will be posted to our Facebook, YouTube, and WordPress webpages on Sunday morning. I hope you’ll join the entire Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church for worship on Aldersgate Day. May your heart, too, be “strangely warmed.”

Best regards,
Rev. Christopher Millay
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Letter to the Congregation, 13 May 2020

To the members and friends of First UMC, greetings!

I know that you, like me, are eager to get back together for worship and fellowship. As you know, our bishop has recommended that we not hold in-person worship until June 14 at the earliest. Bishop Trimble is in conversation with medical professionals at IU Health, which is a United Methodist-related healthcare system.

Last week, I spoke with two members of our congregation, Dr. Joseph Lee, M.D. and Carol Collier-Smith. Dr. Lee stated that we should hold off our in-person worship until six weeks after the COVID-19 peak in our area. The date which Bishop Trimble provided (June 14) is approximately six weeks from the peak expected in the Indianapolis area. Southwest Indiana, however, is running about two weeks behind Indianapolis. So, we will need to remain apart until about June 28 or July 05.

I know this is disappointing, even disheartening, but it is necessary for the health of our congregation and broader communities in Posey County.

Carol Collier-Smith (Chief Operations Officer of Echo Community Healthcare) stated that, because so many people are NOT taking precautions seriously and are not doing what they ought (such as wearing masks in public, washing hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer frequently, and keeping 6 feet apart) health professionals across the nation expect a resurgence of the virus to occur in the Fall. If people would simply do what they ought for the sake of the community, we likely would not see a resurgence. Carol said it’s also very important for those 65 and older and for those who have chronic health conditions to stay home and be very cautious about getting out.

(As a personal observation, I went to a local store a few days ago and, as I was putting my mask on in the car, three people who were NOT wearing masks walked out of the store).

Please wear a mask when you go out in public. On Monday, May 11, the Posey County Health Department posted this statement on their Facebook page:

“It is even more important that everyone continues to follow the social distancing guidelines when they go out in public as the State of Indiana continues to open up businesses like restaurants and salons/barbers this week. Please don’t act like everything is fine and back to normal. Wear masks at all times when you are out except to eat or when not possible to wear and please continue to try and remain 6 feet apart when possible.”

Right now, I am working on a plan/procedure for when we are able to gather together again. But I want you to know that things will not be as they were. For the good of each other, we will need to take precautions that we’ve never had to worry about in the past.

Until we can get back together, we will continue to worship online with Facebook Live and YouTube. You can find the links to those webpages on our church website www.firstumcmv.com/. Our worship services go live on Facebook at about 9:30 a.m. on Sunday mornings. The videos are then posted on YouTube and my WordPress blog (along with my sermon text).

I have encouraged our Sunday school classes and church committees to find ways to connect virtually (Google Meet is free: https://meet.google.com/).

Please be careful out there and know that you are in my prayers.

Best regards,
Rev. Christopher Millay

Deaconess COVID-19 Triage Line:

Anyone can call the 24 Hour COVID Triage Line from Deaconess at 812-450-6555 if you have been exposed to someone who is COVID positive or if you are experiencing COVID -19 symptoms such as shortness of breath, cough, fever, chills, sudden loss of smell and taste, and muscle aches.

Posey County Health Department Information Facebook page: CLICK HERE

NOTICE: As of Wednesday, May 13, the testing site for Posey County is changing to Wilson Community Center located at 481 State Hwy 69, New Harmony, IN. They will be open Monday through Friday from 8 am to 8 p.m., by appointment only. To schedule an appointment, call 1-888-634-1116 or visit https://lhi.care/covidtesting.

Testing is FREE, insurance information will be requested but not required. This testing site is for any resident in Indiana who has symptoms they think may be due to Coronavirus and also those identified as close contacts to people who have tested positive for Covid 19.

Indiana Department of Health COVID-19 Dashboard: CLICK HERE

 

Believe in God | 5th of Easter

John 14:1-14

1 “Don’t be troubled. Trust in God. Trust also in me. 2 My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you? 3 When I go to prepare a place for you, I will return and take you to be with me so that where I am you will be too. 4 You know the way to the place I’m going.”

5 Thomas asked, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”

6 Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you have really known me, you will also know the Father. From now on you know him and have seen him.”

8 Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us.”

9 Jesus replied, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I have spoken to you I don’t speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves. 12 I assure you that whoever believes in me will do the works that I do. They will do even greater works than these because I am going to the Father. 13 I will do whatever you ask for in my name, so that the Father can be glorified in the Son. 14 When you ask me for anything in my name, I will do it. (CEB)

Worship Video

Trust in God

John 14 is a text that we often hear at funerals or beside freshly dug graves. In fact, our pervasive use of this text during times of death and loss almost makes it strange for us to hear it read on the fifth Sunday of Easter. Afterall, the Season of Easter is about resurrection and life. So why would we read a passage from Scripture that is so deeply associated with death?

One reason might be that death is kind of a prerequisite to resurrection. We don’t get to experience the joy of Easter without the horror of Good Friday. Good Friday isn’t exactly a popular holy day. One can see that in the attendance record at Good Friday worship services. We can say we revere Good Friday, but very few people actually show up to bear witness to the agony of our God as we walk through the account in Scripture. That’s one of the reasons why the church has moved to include the Passion narratives on Palm Sunday. We call it Palm/Passion Sunday now. We slip the Passion in there because we know most people are not going to experience it during Holy Week.

Another reason why we read this text during the Easter season might be that the church today finds itself in the same predicament that the disciples were about to find themselves in of Jesus-in-absentia (at least physically absent). John 14 begins Jesus’ lengthy farewell discourse in which he prepares his followers for his absence. Things are about to radically change. Jesus knows he’s going to die. But he also knows he’ll rise from death and ascend to glory. He’ll return to God whence he came. He also knows that we will follow him in this pattern. Jesus, in this passage, is about to go ahead of us. But the relationship doesn’t end with death.

Still, the hearts of his disciples are troubled. Remember, all of this is taking place in the upper room. Jesus has just washed the feet of his disciples. He has just announced that he will be betrayed. He has just finished telling Peter that he will deny him three times before the rooster crows. The growing anxiety in the room must have been thick enough to cut with a knife. And Jesus next words to this group of troubled disciples is, “Don’t be troubled” (John 14:1a CEB).

Now, this feels a little like being told to calm down. I saw a meme once that said, “Never in the history of calm down has anyone who was told to calm down ever actually calmed down.” Being told to calm down usually raises our hackles, doesn’t it? Unless the person speaking is someone we know, love, and trust. If it’s a random person, them’s fightin’ words. If it’s a parent or spouse or loved one whom we know and trust is in solidarity with us, who is ready to walk through fire and flood with us, that trust enables us to listen instead of react.

I don’t know whether the disciples were able to listen right away, but it seems by their questions and comments that they were struggling to understand their present and their future. They had just been told that they would betray, deny, and abandon Jesus. Their hearts were definitely troubled. So, Jesus tells them to trust; to believe. “Trust in God. Trust also in me” (John 14:1b CEB).

In John’s writings, trust, belief, or faith, however the Greek word is translated, is never a person’s inner intellectual assent or agreement. Faith, belief, trust is almost exclusively an active commitment that is outwardly displayed in how we behave. If we believe, trust, have faith in Jesus, then our actions will display the love and compassion of Jesus. The well-dressed words that come out of our mouth matter very little if our actions fail to live up to the standard Jesus set by his example. Jesus didn’t teach intellectual agreement. Jesus taught love, acceptance, and forgiveness by loving, accepting, and forgiving.

So, when Jesus tells his disciples to trust in God and trust in him, he’s telling them to live like they trust in God and in him. Again, it’s important for us to remember the context of Jesus’ words. “After he washed the disciples’ feet, he put on his robes and returned to his place at the table. He said to them, ‘Do you know what I’ve done for you? You call me “Teacher” and “Lord,” and you speak correctly, because I am. If I, your Lord and teacher, have washed your feet, you too must wash each other’s feet. I have given you an example: Just as I have done, you also must do’” (John 13:12-15 CEB). We have faith, belief, or trust in Jesus by continuing to serve each other and those outside our community of faith as Jesus served. “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other” (John 13:34-35 CEB).

What are the things that trouble our hearts? The whole world is in a difficult season of life right now. The pandemic we’re facing has caused innumerable fears and concerns. Some of us are worried about paying our bills. Some of us are worried about our health. Some of us are worried about loved ones and friends who are in medical professions. Some of us are worried about our retirement accounts and whether we’ll have enough to sustain us in the coming years. Some of us are simply struggling with the isolation, itself. The Indiana 211 hotline has gone from about 1,000 calls a day to 25,000 calls a day. I read that the national suicide hotline saw an 891% increase in calls. People are struggling to cope. We can get through this difficult time by living out our trust in God. That means we continue to love each other and continue to serve as Jesus taught us.

As Jesus prepared his disciples for his departure, he reminded them that he was going ahead of them to prepare a place. He says his Father’s house has room to spare. There’s a lot of room in God. God is eternally roomy. God is expansively available. Eternal life is entrance into God’s vast and roomy being. Our place, the place to which Jesus will gather us in resurrection from death, is eternal life in God. The place to which Jesus will gather us is God’s own self. Probably less a location than a relational presence. It’s impossible to know the fullness of what this means, but we can trust that where Jesus is, we will be also.

This is ancient Jewish wedding imagery. A groom would go and prepare a place for his bride. Then, he would formally come to her parents’ house and take her to where he lives, so she can live with him as part of his larger family. Jesus makes room for us as part of his extremely large family. He gathers us together in a new household.

Yet, like Thomas, there are times in our lives where we find ourselves lost enough to say, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:5 CEB). That’s when Jesus reminds us, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 CEB). Now, there are some who take this to point to a kind of Christian exclusivity or triumphalism. But that’s not what this means. God can save anyone that God wants to save. God can invite anyone into God’s household that God wants to invite, and there’s not a dang thing that you and I can do about it. Except, perhaps, rejoice.

If Jesus wanted the disciples to aim for a narrow exclusivity, then he would have told us how his Father’s house has only a few rooms, and those will be set aside only for those who are good enough. After all, Jesus can’t let just any old riffraff into his Father’s house. What would the neighbors think?

No! Jesus said that his Father’s house has room to spare. Jesus came to save the riffraff: people like you and me, if we’re honest about ourselves. There’s room for all of us, and Jesus will come and take us to that place. We have a home in God, so there’s no reason for us to be troubled.

Or, like Philip, we might ask Jesus for more specific directions: “Lord, show us the Father; that will be enough for us” (John 14:8 CEB). That’s when Jesus reminds us of his oneness with the Father. “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been with you all this time? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words I have spoken to you I don’t speak on my own. The Father who dwells in me does his works. Trust me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or at least believe on account of the works themselves” (John 14:9-11 CEB).

What we are invited to hear as we read through this passage is God’s initiative in Jesus Christ for us to come to God. None of this is our doing. None of this is our acting. God has acted in Jesus Christ on our behalf. Salvation is God’s initiative. God has revealed God’s self to us in Jesus Christ. God’s self-knowledge is revealed in God’s love, God’s self-emptying, God’s self-sacrifice in Jesus Christ.

Jesus came to be Emmanuel, which is God With Us. It should be a source of amazement and comfort to know that God has unequivocally chosen not to be God Without Us. Trust that God has space for you. God has prepared room for you, no matter how messed up, troubled, hurting, broken down, or unfinished you may be. We are invited to trust in God and trust in Jesus: to live as a member of God’s house according to the ways members of this household ought to act.

The way we follow the way, the truth, and the life, is by living the way Jesus lived. It means we embody the values he embodied. It means we hold fast to the truth he exemplified. It means that we spend our lives giving of ourselves and sharing with the world this life-altering, love-centered, abundantly roomy good news.

Jesus said that whoever believes in him will do the works that he does (c.f. John 14:12). Following Jesus means we live our story as if it’s Christ’s story. We live as though we’re family. We welcome others and make room for them the same way God has welcomed us and made room for us. We get to create space for others the same way Christ has made space for us. This is the greater work to which we’re called. God is always making room. And since we’re people of God’s expansive and ever-expanding household, that’s what we’re called to do as well.

It’s fitting that this is a text we use so often at funerals, because it’s a text that invites us to new, abundant, and eternal life.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Rev. Christopher Millay

Letter to the Congregation, 06 May 2020

Greetings, everyone!

First, I hope each of you is doing well and keeping safe. I know these are trying times for some of us, especially with the prolonged isolation. Your pastors are here if you need us. Please don’t hesitate to reach out if you want to talk, pray, or share ideas for how we might better connect to one another.

Second, I want to make sure you know where to find our online worship resources. First UMC now has an official Facebook page where we can connect as a congregation. We stream our worship services live to the Facebook page each Sunday at 9:30 a.m., and we will continue to do so until we can reopen in-person worship. The worship service video is then uploaded and posted to my YouTube channel and sermon blog. The hyperlinks to these webpages are pasted below.

First UMC’s Facebook page: CLICK HERE
Christopher Millay’s YouTube channel: CLICK HERE
Christopher Millay’s WordPress Blog: CLICK HERE


Third
, as for when we might reopen, we have a lot to consider. I am in conversation with local medical professionals, and I’m listening to state officials, the CDC, and our Indiana Conference UMC leadership. Right now, Bishop Trimble’s recommendation is that we do not begin in-person worship until June 14. I know that’s a long way off. I know some of us are restless and tiring of our separation. I am, too. But we must act responsibly. For now, we will continue to connect as best we can through online worship and phone calls. When we are able to begin opening up to in-person worship, I will make that announcement through email and our online platforms (Facebook, YouTube, blog, and church website).

Fourth, I sincerely thank you for your continued financial support of our church. Many of you have mailed in checks, but I want to make you aware that we do have an online option for giving your tithes and offerings. By using the link below, you can set up a one-time or recurring payment from your bank account or credit card.

WebPay Link: CLICK HERE

Currently, we are in a good place, financially, because of your faithfulness.

Fifth, our Endowment committee has extended the deadline for grant requests to June 30. Copies of the grant request form are available in the church office. You can arrange to pick one up by calling me on my cell phone. If you would like a copy emailed to you, please contact me at my email address or through the church website: http://www.firstumcmv.com/.

Finally, know that you are in my prayers. I pray for our congregation and our world daily, and I trust that you are praying, too. Thank you for your faithfulness.

Best regards,
Rev. Christopher Millay

Devoted | 4th Sunday of Easter

Acts 2:42-47

42 The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers. 43 A sense of awe came over everyone. God performed many wonders and signs through the apostles. 44 All the believers were united and shared everything. 45 They would sell pieces of property and possessions and distribute the proceeds to everyone who needed them. 46 Every day, they met together in the temple and ate in their homes. They shared food with gladness and simplicity. 47 They praised God and demonstrated God’s goodness to everyone. The Lord added daily to the community those who were being saved. (CEB)

Devoted

The first verse of this text highlights four important things that we Christians need. The first need is the Apostles’ Teaching. The teaching of the apostles was a continuation of the teaching of Jesus. The teaching of Jesus—who is God—was a continuation of what God had already told us through the Law and the Prophets.

And, just like the Law and the Prophets and Jesus, the teaching of the apostles is primarily about our ethics: it’s about how we act, especially toward others. How we treat other people matters profoundly to God.

The apostle John taught that we should love each other, not with word or speech, but with action and truth (c.f. 1 John 3:18). The apostle James taught that our actions show whether we really have faith or not (c.f. James 2:1-26). The apostle Peter taught that we should set ourselves apart by our obedience to the truth, which results in genuine affection and loving each other deeply (c.f. 1 Peter 1:22). He also taught that, above all, we should show sincere love to each other because love brings about forgiveness (c.f. 1 Peter 4:8).

Jesus, himself, kind of boiled everything down to love. If we love God and if we love our neighbor, we’re fulfilling what God requires of us. That “love your neighbor as yourself” thing in Matthew, Mark, and Luke came from Leviticus 19:18. In both Leviticus and according to Jesus, the definition of neighbor was expanded to include people we might not want to include if we were left to our own preferences.

In fact, in the Gospel of Mark, the legal expert who questioned Jesus about the greatest commandment agreed that loving God and loving our neighbors is more important than all the other religious stuff we might do. It does not mean that our religious stuff—our activities, rituals, tithing, or whatever else we might do—are unimportant. They are important. But how well we love each other—or not—matters more. It’s exactly what the prophet Micah taught when he said, “He has told you, human one, what is good and what the LORD requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8 CEB).

The first forty-one verse of Acts chapter 2 describe the Day of Pentecost: the sound of rushing wind, the tongues of flame, the disciples speaking in other languages, and Peter’s sermon that brought three-thousand people into the church. It was a day of great enthusiasm. But enthusiasm for anything has a tendency to burn out in a short while. In seminary, I was enthusiastic about mastering Biblical Hebrew…until about chapter 3. If the disciples hadn’t done something to encourage and enable long-term commitment to Jesus, the enthusiasm of Pentecost would have been a short-term high, and a mighty letdown.

But, led by the Holy Spirit, the people of the church devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles. They moved right into the task of teaching what the church is, how the church ought to act, and what the church ought to do. And remember, we are the church. Church is not a building. Church is people. Church is us. Without us, this building is not a church. Even without a building, we are the church.

The second need in verse 42 is the Community. We live together in community. We’re all part of many different communities: our local church community, our school community, our broader civic community, our Girl Scout or Scouts community. When I lived in Fort Wayne, my family had a Taekwondo community. Community is about people relating to other people. Sometimes we do that well, and sometimes we don’t do that so well. In the church, we’re Christian people, yes, but we’re still people. And people don’t always get along. Jesus taught the apostles two important matters about community.

The first is about when we mess up and maybe do something to hurt someone else. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus said: “Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go. First make things right with your brother or sister and then come back and offer your gift” (CEB). In other words, if you messed up, and you realize you’ve messed up, then you go make your relationship with that person right again. The reconciliation of that relationship is more important to God than bringing our gifts to the altar.

The second is about when others hurt us. In Matthew 18:15-17, Jesus said, “If your brother or sister sins against you, go and correct them when you are alone together. If they listen to you, then you’ve won over your brother or sister. But if they won’t listen, take with you one or two others so that every word may be established by the mouth of two or three witnesses. But if they still won’t pay attention, report it to the church. If they won’t pay attention even to the church, treat them as you would a Gentile and tax collector” (CEB).

Now, a lot of people who read this text think, well, I did A, B, and C, and the jerk didn’t repent, so now I’m done with them. Jesus said I get to cut them out of my life and treat them like a tax collector and a sinner. But, if you think about it, that interpretation doesn’t quite jive with Jesus. How did Jesus treat tax collectors and sinners? Jesus offered invitations for all people, including those tax collectors and sinners, to be in relationship with him.

With broken relationships, we only have broken community. Relationships within a community are incredibly important, and in most cases we ought to try for reconciliation.

Now, I say, in most cases because there is a pastoral caveat here. If a relationship is abusive, get out of it. Whether it’s emotional abuse, mental abuse, physical abuse, or sexual abuse, get out. Get out of that relationship and get help from people who love you and will protect you. That’s what Jesus wants for you. We don’t stay in abusive relationships to try to save the abuser. I was ordained in 2006, commissioned to full-time pastoral ministry in 2003, and I’ve been doing professional ministry since 1999. In my 21 years of professional ministry, I’ve never saved anyone. Saving people is what Jesus does, not us. We aren’t allowed to be that arrogant.

If you’ve suffered abuse, it is not your fault. Get out of that relationship and get help. The problem in that relationship is the abuser, not the abused. I can say with absolute certainty that Jesus wants each of us to be healthy and whole, and you will never be healthy and whole in an abusive relationship. Honestly, neither will the abuser.

Being a community together demands that we take care of each other—and ourselves. It demands that we check in with each other and treat each other with love, respect, dignity, concern, and care. We’re responsible for our own loving actions—or lack thereof—toward each other. The Holy Spirit generated this thing the New Testament calls koinonia, which is community. It’s a kind of Spirit-induced fellowship that produces real solidarity. And, I’ll say again, a lot of people in our congregation have exemplified this kind of care very well during this COVID-19 pandemic. Whether it matters to you or not, you have a proud pastor.

The third need in verse 42 is their Shared Meals. Some scholars point to this as a reference to Holy Communion, and it might be. But I think it’s also about being present with each other. When we get together for anything, are we present? Or, are we kind of physically there but mentally somewhere else? Being present with each other is how we build and solidify the relationships of our community.

Think about the times Jesus shared meals with people. He was bad-mouthed because he broke bread with known sinners. He ate and drank with the dregs of society. He welcomed broken people to his table, and joined broken people at their tables. Jesus promised that we will one day eat and drink with him at his table (c.f. Luke 22:30). This is about hospitality and presence. When we receive Holy Communion together, we are guests at God’s table.

I miss our shared meals together. I wish we had a mission meal after worship today. I miss being present with my congregation. So, when we are able to gather together again, commit to being present. While we’re stuck at home, be present with those who are with you. Commit to taking time for conversation with each other. Learn about each other. Listen to each other. It shows others that we care. It shows that our love for each other is genuine.

The fourth need in verse 42 is their Prayers. They prayed together and they prayed individually. Prayer links us to God in a powerful way. Prayer is a means of receiving God’s grace. And, prayer connects us to each other. After all, if I’m praying for someone, I’ll probably follow up with them to see how they’re doing. I want to follow their story so I know how to continue praying for them. That’s love. That’s community. And that’s being present. Prayer matters, also, because it’s one of the ways we build up our relationship with God. Verse 46 tells us that the community gathered daily in the Temple.

So, how might we be more intentional about devoting ourselves to the teaching of the Apostles? Someone once called the Bible the most revered, yet least-read book in America. Do we study our Scripture? Do we say our prayers? Do we treat others—especially the outcasts of our local and world community—with love and respect?

We need to remember to devote ourselves to the teachings of the Apostles, which are the teachings of Jesus, which are the teachings of God.

We need to take care of each other and check in with each other, because our relationships matter. God requires us to treat each other with faithful love. God cares more about how we treat each other than pretty much anything else.

We need to be present with each other. Maybe that’s sharing a meal together. Maybe that’s something else for you. But we should be intentional about being present with each other.

We need to pray for each other, and we need to pray for our own needs. Prayer builds our relationship with God. In fact, I imagine God craves that time of prayer with us as much as we need it.

What we glimpse in these verses—the devotion to the teaching of the apostles, and to the community, and to their shared meals, and to their prayers—are the marks of an authentic embodiment of the Holy Spirit in the church. May God’s Spirit work in us and renew our devotion to these things, so that we might embody the Holy Spirit in the same way.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Rev. Christopher Millay

Worship Video

God’s Word | Third Sunday of Easter

1 Peter 1:17-23

17 Since you call upon a Father who judges all people according to their actions without favoritism, you should conduct yourselves with reverence during the time of your dwelling in a strange land. 18 Live in this way, knowing that you were not liberated by perishable things like silver or gold from the empty lifestyle you inherited from your ancestors. 19 Instead, you were liberated by the precious blood of Christ, like that of a flawless, spotless lamb. 20 Christ was chosen before the creation of the world, but was only revealed at the end of time. This was done for you, 21 who through Christ are faithful to the God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory. So now, your faith and hope should rest in God.

22 As you set yourselves apart by your obedience to the truth so that you might have genuine affection for your fellow believers, love each other deeply and earnestly. 23 Do this because you have been given new birth– not from the type of seed that decays but from seed that doesn’t. This seed is God’s life-giving and enduring word. (CEB)

God’s Word

As we journey deeper into the eight-week long Easter season, the Scripture texts we encounter continue to confront us with the idea that there is more to resurrection life than joy and halleluiahs. We who claim to follow Jesus Christ have certain obligations. And those obligations will make us look alien to the rest of the world. In fact, Peter identifies us as the displaced who are living in a strange land. We are, essentially, exiles, resident aliens, foreigners-in-place. The United States of America might be our native land, but it’s not our home. Our present time is a journey of homelessness.

Peter can say that about us because our home isn’t here on this broken earth. Our home is in God, and we won’t truly be home until the restoration which God intends, happens. That restored creation—the new heaven and the new earth—is our home (c.f. 2 Peter 3:13). Peter points this fact out to us, and he reminds us to conduct ourselves with reverence in our present exile.

First, I think it’s important to point out why Peter insists that we conduct ourselves with reverence, and it has to do with what Peter had learned about the God upon whom we call. As a disciple and an apostle, Peter had come to know that God judges all people without favoritism. God’s judgment is impartial.

Every time the Bible mentions judgment, we’re told that human beings will be judged by what we’ve done, by what we’ve failed to do, and by what we’ve said. Revelation even states, “‘Favored are the dead who die in the Lord from now on. Yes,’ says the Spirit, ‘so they can rest from their labors, because their deeds follow them” (Revelation 14:13 CEB). The idea that our deeds follow us might not be very comforting to some of us. I’m not really that good of a person. I’d rather some of my deeds not follow me. It makes God’s judgment feel a little scary!

Hold that thought.

Peter says God will judge us without favoritism. God is impartial. God’s impartiality is a lesson Peter learned in Acts chapter 10 when God sent him to the house of a Gentile Roman soldier named Cornelius. After the initial encounter, Peter said, “I really am learning that God doesn’t show partiality to one group of people over another. Rather, in every nation, whoever worships him and does what is right is acceptable to him” (Acts 10:34-35 CEB).

That theme is front and center in this reading from 1 Peter. So, what kind of behavior does God define as acceptable? What are the parameters of God’s impartial judgment? What is right conduct?

The Common English Bible translates 1 Peter 1:17 as “…conduct yourselves with reverence…” while the New Revised Standard Version translates it as “…live in reverent fear…”. Fear is one of those words that we English speakers in a broad swath of American culture don’t like very much. When we read that we should fear God, something recoils in us. When we read that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, we’re bewildered because fear is something we hide. Fear is shameful. Fear is weakness. Fear is cowardice.

Unless we’re intentionally exposing ourselves to fear by walking through a haunted house, watching a horror movie, or riding a crazy-tall roller coaster, fear is something we don’t admit to. The only reason people in our culture can get away with expressing fear in the examples above is because we choose to face fear in those instances. We turn fear into amusement. When we choose to look fear in the eye, we can call it bravery. Otherwise, fear is generally understood as a bad thing.

But that’s not how other cultures understand fear. Fear was often understood as a good, healthy thing. Fearing God instead of people can help us act the right way. In Exodus 1:16, Pharaoh ordered the Hebrew midwives to kill all the baby boys born to Hebrew women. But, Shiphrah and Puah feared God, so they disobeyed Pharaoh. They feared God, not Pharaoh. Their fear was in the right place, which encouraged them to act properly and kept them from acting improperly.

On the other hand, King Saul won a battle, but after the win, he feared his soldiers instead of God. This misplaced fear led him to disobey God’s command and act improperly (c.f. 1 Samuel 15:24).

Yet, we also find the idea that, when we’re right with God, there’s no reason to be afraid of fearful things (c.f. Isaiah 41:10. For further examples c.f. Matthew Schlimm, 70 Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know, p.137-141).

So, behavior that’s guided by a healthy and respectful fear of God is what God finds acceptable. God has told us what God expects. Do justice, embrace faithful love, walk humbly, take care of vulnerable people like widows, orphans, and immigrants, love God, and love others (c.f. Micah 6:8, Leviticus 19, Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Jesus taught us to love God and love our neighbors (c.f. Mark 12:29-31). God will judge each person according to what we have done, and whether what we have done aligns with love or not. Love is the rule for our behavior. Love is what God requires of us. Love is why we seek justice for the oppressed and vulnerable. Love is why we walk humbly with God and each other.

Since God will judge us according to our actions, we probably want to make sure our actions stem from the root of love. Whatever we might say or think, our deepest allegiance, our truest character, is on display through our behavior.

Peter reminds us that our behavior matters to God. If we are a people in exile, a people dwelling in a strange land, we should live out the values of our true home wherever we are. We are called to live in a way that reflects the salvation we’ve been given through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Peter reminds us that we have been liberated—ransomed—from an empty lifestyle by the blood of Christ. The old way—the way we lived before we believed in the good news of God’s salvation through Jesus—is something we set aside for a new way of living.

Ironically, the new way is even older than the old way. Peter wrote, “Christ was chosen before the creation of the world, but was only revealed at the end of time. This was done for you, who through Christ are faithful to the God who raised him from the dead and gave him glory. So now, your faith and hope should rest in God” (1 Peter 1:20-21 CEB). The way of Christ is older than creation, itself. God is love. God created out of love. God breathed life into the human race out of love. Everything God does is love.

Easter People are called to be holy as God is holy. Some people like to define holiness as a list of rules: dos and don’ts. But the holiness of God is born of love. When we live holy lives, we love as we ought. Holiness cannot be defined apart from love, and love cannot be described apart from the way God loves us. Holiness happens when the blood of Jesus Christ, the forgiveness and new life we have been given through the death and resurrection of Christ, opens our hearts to a true, genuine love and affection for one another. Love sets us apart. Love is what makes us look like weirdos to the world.

I think Peter knew this. What we do has lasting consequences. Peter wrote, “As you set yourselves apart by your obedience to the truth so that you might have genuine affection for your fellow believers, love each other deeply and earnestly. Do this because you have been given new birth—not from the type of seed that decays but from seed that doesn’t. This seed is God’s life-giving and enduring word” (1 Peter 1:22-23 CEB). Easter people live in obedience to the truth, and the truth is that God wants us to love each other.

Earlier, I asked you to hold that scary thought about how we’ll be judged according to our deeds. Any fear we might have of God’s judgment of our lives falls away when we recognize that God revealed Jesus Christ for us! God sent Jesus into the world for us! We all carry baggage. We’ve all sinned. Not one of us is perfect. If this were a perfection test, we’d all fail. Only Jesus, the “flawless, spotless lamb” would pass (1 Peter 1:19 CEB).

What we can trust is that God loves us so desperately, so completely, that God made it possible for us to have new birth. God has drawn us to each other in a new community: a community defined, first and foremost, by God’s love for the human race. God did this for us, despite the ways that we, ourselves, and those who came before us have rebelled against God! That’s the most amazing example of love I can think of.

How do we show genuine affection? How do we love each other deeply and earnestly as Peter describes?

Well, our community is also defined by our love for each other. And love doesn’t forever sit still. Even though we’ve mostly been sheltering in place for several weeks, our love for each other has led many people of our congregation to find ways to continue showing affection for each other. Some of us have been checking in with each other, especially our elderly members. Some of us have made phone calls, sent cards, connected on social media, sent texts. Some of us have delivered meals. Some of us have checked in with those on the front lines, especially our medical professionals. Some have checked with me to see if there are any families in need during these strange and difficult times. I am grateful for the many ways the people of First United Methodist Church have reached out to those around us in genuine love, care, and affection.

We show our love for each other by our actions. When we live in reverent fear, as Peter describes, it’s not about living afraid. It’s about living in such a way that our actions point toward God and, at the same time, our actions become an extension of God’s love to the world. We are Easter people. Let’s continue to show genuine love and affection to our local community and to the whole world. Love is the defining quality of Christ’s church, and we all need more of that right now.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!

Rev. Christopher Millay

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